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Truss: Leadership Without Long-term Vision is Destined to Fail

Updated: Jan 12, 2023

Liz Truss took just 45 days to prove that a leader without long-term answers is a leader unfit for office. Whilst her disastrous mini-budget is widely recognised as the catalyst for her demise, Truss’ history of failing to acknowledge future realities should have sounded alarm bells that her appointment to office was destined to fail from the start.

In no area is Truss’ fantasy-land of no consequences clearer than her stance on environmental policy - both prior to, and during her premiership. Her actions have not just reflected a disregard for the environment, but a series of active attempts to reverse the already lacklustre progress that Britain has made to combat climate change.

Truss’ voting record prior to becoming Prime Minister includes opposition to a catalogue of progressive amendments to the 2021 Environment Bill. Examples include voting against reducing the permitted carbon dioxide emission rate of new homes, and against a requirement for ministers to have due regard to the target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 when taking actions.

The now former Prime Minister also has a history of attacking renewable energy efforts. Whilst in the position of Environment Secretary under David Cameron’s government, Truss repeatedly expressed her dislike for solar panels, labelling them “a blight on the landscape” and making unsubstantiated claims that they harmed food production. She put action behind these words, by cutting subsidies for solar farms.

Whilst scientists around the world shouted from the rooftops that switching to renewable energy is a vital step required to combat climate change, Truss chose to plug her ears and promote continuing to burn through finite energy resources. During her time as Environment Secretary, she also volunteered her own department for substantial funding cuts, emphasising her history of concerning herself with short-term financial and economic benefits for the wealthy, at the expense of long-term climate security.

Now, Truss might have lasted just six weeks in office, but she certainly maximised that time to regress as much UK climate action as she could manage. Starting with the announcement of her cabinet, Truss filled environmental positions with Conservative politicians whose voting records reflected consistent opposition to progressive climate policies, making abundantly clear her desires to have no barriers to tearing down legislation designed to protect the environment.

Jacob Rees-Mogg was selected to fill the role of Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and tasked with taking on the UK Energy Brief. Rees-Mogg blamed “climate alarmism” for high energy prices and claimed that scientists’ projects for future changes to the climate cannot be deemed realistic, because the meteorologists’ weather forecasts are not always correct. Earlier this year, he said that the government wanted to extract “every last drop” of oil and gas from the North Sea. The Business Secretary has also labelled the reopening of shale gas sites as “quite an interesting opportunity” and likened fracking to “a rock fall in a disused coal mine”.

Yet such unsubstantiated claims and rhetoric designed to downplay the climate crisis were not deemed a cause for concern by our former Prime Minister - rather they came as music to her ears. Shortly after making her cabinet appointments, Liz Truss announced her plans to reverse a fracking ban. This is in spite of insufficient scientific data to track earthquakes caused by the drilling and limit the risk of their destruction, documented in a leaked government report obtained by The Guardian.

This plan to reverse fracking also served to be one of the final straws in Conservative confidence in Liz Truss’ leadership. A crunch vote in the Commons on Truss’ fracking plans descended into chaos, with multiple MPs alleging bullying and manhandling, and more than 40 voting against Truss. From this moment, it was clear that even her own party members were concerned over the lack of long-term planning that was evidenced by proposing to lift the fracking ban. The following day, Liz Truss announced her resignation.

However, it only takes a brief glance over Liz Truss’ history in politics to see that, just like Jacob Rees-Mogg, she too has a history of ignoring expert advice, as soon as it did not fit in with her short-term goals. Whilst she was Environment Secretary, Liz Truss allowed farmers to dredge watercourses running through their land without any regulation, in spite of expert advice warning her against this course of action. An Environment Agency report which had specifically explained how this can increase flood risk and lead to the destruction of river ecology was mysteriously removed from government websites.

Another disastrous cabinet appointment for the environment can be seen in Truss’ decision to select Ranil Jayawardena to head the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The new secretary of state for the environment has a consistent record of voting against measures to protect the environment, including opposing government support for renewable energy projects. Jayawardena’s own East Hampshire constituency has been subjected to untreated sewage being pumped into its rivers for an average of 11 hours every day - amounting to over 4,000 hours of sewage discharge in 2021.

Having surrounded herself with climate-sceptics, Truss quickly set to work dismantling environmental policy. Her government granted itself the ability to revoke or alter the 570 EU environmental laws that currently still apply to the UK. They had originally been upheld after Brexit as a part of a promise made by former Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, that leaving the Union would not lead to a weakening of UK environmental law.

But Truss faced a problem. An influential figure whom she could not remove for their position of power: King Charles III. The monarch and long-term climate activist, who had reportedly wished to deliver a speech at Cop27, cancelled his plans to attend after she intervened to advise him to stay away. When the King’s commitment to environmental endeavours is so clear, Truss’ decision to advise him against attending highlighted her desire to silence the UK’s acknowledgement of the disastrous long-term realities that the climate crisis threatens.

Conversative MP Tobias Ellwood, tweeted his disapproval for Truss advising the King against attending Cop27, saying that he hoped common sense would prevail and that as a “globally respected voice on the environment”, the King’s attendance “would add serious authority to the British delegation”.

Meanwhile, Stanley Johnson, staunch Conversative Party politician and father of Boris Johnson warned that Truss’ plans put the environment at risk. He stated: “The mad dash for growth may seem essential now – but come 10 years from now, when we find that some of our key wildlife sites, our key landscape areas have been put at risk, we'll think differently about it.”

As the speed at which our planet is being ravaged by devastating and increasingly irreparable climate destruction, Liz Truss really utilised her six weeks in power to put the UK’s pedal to the metal. However, whilst her reckless short-term approach to governing certainly set-back the UK’s already weak environmental commitments, Truss’ failure to hold on to the position of Prime Minister has at least set an example which makes it abundantly clear that realistic long-term vision is a non-negotiable trait in a leader.

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